Loss of a Leader

The industry lost an outstanding hotelier when James Simkins died of cancer last week. If his name doesn’t ring a bell, that’s because despite his influence he was never one to seek the limelight. A strong champion of using hospitality technology as an essential component of management, he made a profound impression on everyone he met and worked with.
Most recently COO of Benchmark’s Personal Luxury Resorts and Hotels division, James had a long and highly-regarded career. He served in several Westin hotels worldwide, eventually becoming MD and VP Operations for Westin’s Asia region. Later, he helped grow Seattle-based MTM Luxury Lodging into a successful boutique chain before its acquisition by Benchmark.
When I first met him while planning systems for the Westin Tokyo, his immediate grasp of the technology involved in every area, and of its potential for improved operations and guest service, was remarkable, and is still unique among GMs of my experience. As one example, while at MTM he personally brought a disparate group of vendors into a cooperative team to integrate guestroom technology with the front office and energy management systems, well before HTNG had really found its feet. His oft-stated belief was that technology must serve three audiences: the owners, the managers and the guests, contributing to excellent guest service, efficient management operations and cost-effective ownership.
James was remarkably well-rounded. In addition to his comfort level with technology he could go head-to-head with any owner in his thorough and detailed understanding of hotel operations and finance, and had outstanding people skills. Utterly tireless, energetic, generous and perpetually optimistic, in 25 years I never once heard him say a bad word about anybody (despite occasional provocations that would try the patience of a saint) and his staff would follow him anywhere. It would be hard to find a better example of what GMs should strive for, of what hospitality leadership is all about.
After watching Wes Anderson’s wonderfully whimsical movie “The Grand Budapest Hotel”, a friend asked if the close-knit network that rallied to the aid of the beleaguered hero really existed in the hotel industry. The way people immediately jumped in to help James and his family when he fell ill is a perfect example that yes, this is that kind of industry. There’ll be a party to celebrate James’ life this Saturday. It’s going to be packed.

One Response to “Loss of a Leader”

  1. Johnathan Carter Says:

    James Simkins is one of my heroes, so sad to learn of his passing. I first met James at my MTM interview held at the Barking Frog Restaurant during which James reached across the table with mock scissors to cut off my tie. So many memories of James, all of which make me smile. Thank you Jon for this well written eulogy.

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